The Raw Shark Texts by Steven Hall; The Dissident by Nell Freudenberger; A Golden Age by Tahmima Anam; What Was Lost by Catherine O'Flynn - review by Richard Godwin

Richard Godwin

Richard Godwin Enjoys Four First Novels

  • Steven Hall, 
  • Nell Freudenberger, 
  • Tahmima Anam, 
  • Catherine O'Flynn
 

There is something uniquely unsettling about Steven Hall's The Raw Shark Texts, which caused a small sensation at last year's London Book Fair. Occasionally it is the psycho-linguistic plot, in which the amnesiac protagonist, The Second Eric Sanderson, is pursued by a conceptual shark which feeds on human memory and frequently jumps out of the text in pictorial form, a menacing calligram with ‘o's for eyes and ‘v's for teeth. More often, it is the disquieting feeling that a promising young author has been allowed to indulge his pretensions.

For all Hall nods to heroes like Auster, Borges and the screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, the novel attains roughly the level of profundity of an episode of Doctor Who. Indeed, the gadgetry and mid-budget British locations only reinforce the comparison, as Sanderson and his pert sidekick Scout eat sandwiches and dodge schools of linguistic fish.

More's the pity, as Hall is a sensitive observer of physical sensation: take his description of ice cubes in vodka, the run-off water of the lozenges of ice curling into the thick spirit like the ‘colour spirals of oil in water’, or the ‘sad rolling and dispersing of the galaxy’. Perhaps if he located more of the action in

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

East of the Wardrobe

Follow Literary Review on Twitter